Polyvocality in Literature

Trace the history and development of polyvocality (a work having multiple narrators, or following varied narrative voices and perspectives from different characters) as a literary form. From its humble beginnings in the canonisation of the Gospels – combining four distinct accounts of Jesus’ ministry and death by separate authors into one collected volume of scriptural authority – to the epistolary style of Samuel Richardson and Bram Stoker, all the way to Modern novels by William Faulkner, Lawrence Durrell, and George RR Martin. How have methods of polyvocal narration developed over time? What social and aesthetic factors may have given it more prominence at certain historical periods? How have these authors’ choices to present their stories from multiple perspectives been reactionary to the long tradition of single narrators, whether omniscient 3rd person or limited 1st person? How is this reflected in contemporary literary styles and trends?

  • Are you considering fiction, non-fiction, or both? If including non-fiction, it might be enlightening to investigate whether polyvocality increases or decreases the accuracy of eyewitness accounts of events, such as those in the four Gospels. – Tigey 8 years ago
  • Very ambitious. Also, necessary mention: The Canterbury Tales. – TKing 8 years ago
  • This sounds like a topic that can really be developed and analyzed. The only issue I have here is the word "polyvocality.". Are there other words that can express your idea such as multiple narrators in postmodern literature? I am not sure polyvocality is the way to go but am at a loss to give a concrete suggestion. Perhaps someone on the forum could help. – Munjeera 8 years ago
  • Tigey: Though I mainly had fiction in mind, there's certainly room for nonfiction as well. It's certainly debatable which category the Gospels belong to (I'd personally categorise them as "Historical Fiction," but am aware of how contentious such claims can be). If whoever writes this topic wishes to follow that thread further, I'd highly recommending reading The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal; he discusses the polyvocality of the Bible at great length, combating the contemporary notion of its univocality as a "magic eight-ball" with all the answers to life's mysteries. TKing: Good addition, that definitely slipped my mind. In all honesty, I've never been a big Chaucer fan myself, but it belongs on this list nevertheless. I'm sure there are countless other texts that I failed to mention, and it's up to whoever decides to write this topic to do their research to fill in the blanks. Munjeera: You're probably correct that there may be a better word for it, but "polyvocality" was the most suitable term that I was able to think of, and often does appear in literary (and biblical) studies. If you think of a better option, don't hesitate to come back here and share it. – ProtoCanon 8 years ago
  • Another important aspect to mention is free-indirect discourse, when discussing this topic. – danielle577 8 years ago
  • A famous example of polyvocality is Virginia Woolf's The Waves, due to the excessive use of polyvocality and the great difficulty the reader has in deciphering, at multiple parts in the novel, just in fact which character is speaking. She is known for her streams of consciousness writing, and the novel is so intricately woven that multiple streams of consciousness begin to become embedded--which can be infuriating for some readers, while utterly beautiful for others. I want to write this topic!!! – danielle577 8 years ago
  • If you choose to include modern literature, Jodi Picoult is a good example of this, as are Kathryn Stockett and Amy Tan. – Stephanie M. 7 years ago
  • May I suggest as an alternative to polyvocality: "Transversal Literature" – L:Freire 5 years ago

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